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Pros and Cons of Green Building Certification

green certifications Much has been written about the benefits of building green: it is better for the environment, better for building occupants, and can save owners money on energy costs. Owners may wonder if it is worthwhile to go through the process to certify their green building project, or if they should just build it to the standard without the actual certification. We’re going to look at the advantages and disadvantages of green building certification.

Green building certification programs

There are many programs available for green building certification. Some are world-wide and others are only available in certain countries. Not all programs will work for all buildings or projects. The design team will need to look at each program carefully to determine what is best for the project.

LEEDThe LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program is administered by the Green Building Certification Institute. It has been around for about 20 years and has been a big part of the market shift that has made green building as popular as it is today. Certification is available for many types of projects, including homes, existing buildings, new construction, retail, and core and shell projects. Levels of certification range from Certified to Platinum.

Energy Star Energy Star is offered through the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In order to qualify, buildings must be at least 15% more energy efficient than traditional construction. Certification lasts for one year.

BREEAMThe Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) is an international program for sustainable buildings and infrastructure projects. It includes new construction, existing buildings, and refurbishment projects.

Green GlobesGreen Globes is offered through the Green Building Initiative and consists of three categories: new construction, existing buildings, and interiors. The process includes an online survey, a third-party site assessment, and a post assessment.

Living Building Challenge –The Living Building Challenge is a certification program based on a building’s performance over a twelve-month period. It includes certification of the building’s materials and construction methods. Once the data has been submitted, projects are subject to an audit to confirm their certification.

National Green Building Standard – The National Green Building Standard comes from the National Association of Home Builders and is for residential properties only. Certifiable projects include single family homes, multi-family projects, and mixed-use developments. It has several levels of certification, ranging from Bronze to Emerald. All scores are validated, and an independent inspection is performed once the project is complete.

WELL Building Standard – The WELL Building Standard focuses on the overall impact of buildings on health and wellbeing and focuses on seven core concepts. It is awarded by the International WELL Building Institute.

Advantages of green building certification

Building a green building is not the same as certifying that the building is green. Some projects are built to green building standards without pursuing certification. Certification shows a project owner’s commitment to building green. The certification process often requires additional work by the design and construction teams, and there are often additional costs. The willingness to spend extra money to “prove” that the project conforms to green building standards shows how important this value is to the project team.

Many states and localities offer tax incentives for green building projects. Some of these benefits are based on energy savings, and some are based on reaching a certain level of certification. The US federal government also offers tax credits for certain types of projects that achieve certification. These credits and incentives can help defer the additional costs of certification.

Many real estate studies have shown that green buildings sell and lease faster than traditional buildings. These buildings also garner higher rents and lease rates. A report by the World Green Building Council in 2013 called “The Business Case for Green Building,” found that green buildings sold for prices 5-30% higher than standard buildings, depending on the level of certification achieved. Rental premiums for green buildings were 0-17.3% in studies in the US and Australia. Certified green buildings are attractive to both residential and commercial tenants.

Some certification programs subject a building’s design and construction documentation to a third-party review process. This helps ensure that the building is meeting the criteria of the certification program and not just giving lip service. The additional scrutiny provided by a review helps to legitimize the certification and show that the project team is invested in the outcome.

Certification programs require objective data that is used to determine if the building or project meets the criteria of the program. This data may include material data sheets, energy bills, simulation reports, and either photos or an inspection of the project once it is complete. By requiring this data, the programs ensure that buildings are truly meeting their standards, not just claiming they are.

There are many facets of green building. They include things like energy efficiency, material sourcing, water usage, reducing chemicals used in interior finishes, and site characteristics. Some certification programs only focus on energy use, while others focus on the entire building or project. These more robust measurements ensure that the project design is focused on all aspects of sustainable construction, not just energy use.

Disadvantages of green building certification

Many of the certification programs require additional costs for certifying a project. These costs can include registration fees, submission of documents, third-party inspection fees, and certification fees once a project is approved. There may also be higher project costs when it comes to reaching project goals such as energy efficiency or water conservation. Although, many of these higher costs can be mitigated by using integrated design early in the project and getting contractors on board as early as possible.

Some certification programs only measure a building’s “greenness” at the time construction is finished. They don’t look at the on-going operations of a building to see how it performs once it is occupied. This can give some projects a false certification of sorts, as they can be designed to be green but don’t end up living up to that mark in actual use. Recertification of projects or using certifications that look at end-user occupancy data can help to prevent these issues.

When a project team has selected a goal for certification level, it can become easy to start “point-chasing” when the project gets near the goal. This can often lead to additional costs and unnecessary design features that are only installed to meet the criteria for the certification. Teams can also get caught up in the desire to include all the features of a certification program, thus losing perspective on the main objective of the building or the program of the project owner. It may be best to complete the preliminary design before assessing the potential level of certification. This will help ensure that the building program stays intact and doesn’t get lost in the race for points or a certain level of certification.

Pursuing green building certification can lead to many benefits for building owners. These include tax incentives, visibility of commitment, increased sales and lease rates, better indoor air quality and a wider view of what sustainable building is about. The increased costs for inspections, additional documentation, and added project features can make some owners wonder about the necessity of certification. Whether a project is certified or not, green building construction is becoming more imperative as we reduce the planet’s resources and seek to lessen our impact on the earth’s environment.
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